In 1984, Silent Night, Deadly Night hit theaters across the United States. The controversial film told the story of a traumatized young man named Billy who dons a Santa outfit, and embarks on a murderous rampage. Since then, it’s gone on to become one of the most recognized slashers of all time. However, not everyone was too exited about jolly old St. Nick vilified in such a fashion. The film sparked enormous protest, with several parents picketing several theatres, which would lead to many pulling the title from distribution. Even critic Gene Siskel blasted the film, calling the profits generated on opening week nothing more than ‘blood money.’
Aside from the enormous outrage, the film spawned something else—sequels. Four to be exact, and a remake in 2012, that was mediocre for the most part. The holiday season is in full swing, and Christmas is right around the corner. Set up the tree, and hang the stockings, (or bodies if you prefer) as we rank all five movies.
(All titles ranked from worst to best)
(#5) Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: Initiation. (1990)
Synopsis: When a woman engulfed in flames falls to her death, a young journalist decides to investigate. She soon finds herself battling higher powers in the workplace, and becoming intertwined with the members of a female cult.
James O’Neil’s VHS collector book Terror On Tape referred to it as the “Best of a none-to-hot series.” Brian Yuzna’s 1990 effort is far from being the best, and it’s certainly the most forgettable. Many of the elements found in the film can be traced back to Rosemary’s Baby, right down to a coven of witches, and a ritualistic sequence that has the appearance of a bad dream. Initiation has the overall aroma of a product attempting to capitalize on the Silent Night name, in hopes of gaining more popularity with a wider audience. Aside from a brief clip from the third movie displayed on a television screen, (a la Halloween III: Season Of The Witch) and a Christmas light strangulation calling back to original, it bears no resemblance to the previous films. It’s Christmas cash in, one that would have done better as its own film, and not part of a series. Despite a few interesting moments, and a creepy performance from actor Clint Howard, there isn’t enough to turn this lump of coal into a diamond.
Initiation also had a great deal of wasted potential. It dealt with a lot of themes that were relevant to the time period, such as equal treatment in the workplace, and ethics in journalism. However, it’s low-grade production quality and lackluster effects prohibit it of being a contender.
(#4) Silent Night, Deadly Night V: The Toymaker (1991)
Synopsis: When people in a small neighborhood begin to die, suspicion falls on the owner of a local toyshop and his son.
There’s an old expression: “You should never work with children or animals.” If you replace the word ‘animals’ with the name of former child star Mickey Rooney, you have the fifth installment, The Toymaker. Returning to the Christmas theme after the previous installment was the story of an evil toymaker, and his homicidal creations. Utilizing a few generic tropes, and scenes of toys behaving badly, it’s the strangest entry in a series that by 1991 had long overstayed its welcome. Enormously dated and dull by today’s standards, it teeters between moderately bland, and utterly ridiculous. Rooney portrays the films villain, Joe Petto, who runs a toy store with his son, Pino. (A play on the names of Geppetto and Pinocchio) The reference to the children’s fairy tale in this awkward vehicle is just one of many things that will leave you scratching your head.
Rooney’s performance in this film is best described as strange. He’s the last person you would ever imagine as a villain, and there’s a bit of irony with him being involved. A staunch opponent of the first movie, seeing him in this one is a bit hypocritical on his part. (Just a tad.) Toymaker and Initiation are both forgettable, and are only recommended for those who want to visit the entire series as a whole. This final outing ranks fourth, because its quality is a step up from Initiation, and has some of the most entertaining deaths in the entire series.
Highlights include: A pair of rollerblades that cause a near fatal car accident, and a Santa toy that causes impalement. Going into the killer toys angle, there are action figures that come to life to end a babysitter’s night of passion prematurely.
(#3) Silent Night, Deadly Night II (1987)
Synopsis: As he sits in prison, Billy Chapman’s younger brother Ricky recalls the events that drove his brother over the edge. After escaping, he sets out to finish the job his brother started.
Every single moment from the 1987 follow up is comprised of two elements–reminders of how great the first film was, or Eric Freeman’s ridiculous overacting. An unintentional sequel, it’s since become a massive hit among fans. Its popularity is mostly due to a scene of Ricky Caldwell (played by Freeman) shooting someone on a sidewalk, and proclaiming in a boisterous voice: “Garbage Day!” The events of part two are essentially half of a movie, with most of the first act being made up of stock footage from Silent Night, Deadly Night.
This entry is best described as one of the many ‘so bad it’s good’ titles, and one of the top films in that category. Part two ranks third on this list for that very reason. For years it was panned viciously, and dismissed as one of the worst sequels of all time. Because of its growing popularity in recent years, many have given this particular film a second viewing, including myself. Once you get past the stock footage, you have a movie that’s more over the top than can be properly described. Ricky’s exploits are so ridiculous and comically violent, you’d swear you were watching an Itchy & Scratchy segment from The Simpsons. Aside from the infamous garbage day scene, we have murder by jeep, umbrella, and even someone shocked to death by a battery charger. All the while, Freeman’s eyebrows match his wild overacting and exploits. It’s safe to say that they could easily give Joan Crawford a run for her money.
As an unintentional comedy, it’s a gold mine. From a continuity standpoint, it carried on the killer Santa angle, and brought some of the events from the first film to a proper conclusion. (Even though a completely different actress portrays one of those characters.) It’s a fun watch that will leave you in stiches, and deserves the reassessment it’s gotten as of late.
(#2) Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (1989)
Synopsis: Murderer Ricky Caldwell lies in a coma, and blind teenager Laura shares a psychic link with him. As researchers attempt to utilize her abilities to gain entry into his mind, she feels things have gone to far, and leaves with her brother to visit her Grandmother. Unbeknownst to her, Ricky has awoken form his coma, and is following her.
Cult director Monte Hellman’s entry is by far the most underrated. Continuing the story of Ricky Caldwell, and abandoning the killer Santa angle, this could have marked a proper end to the series. 1989’s Better Watch Out! is best described as the ‘Halloween 3’ of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Since it doesn’t rely on many of the motifs set up by the previous two films, it has freedom to move in a different direction, and at its own pace. Unlike the two films that followed this one, this one strays enough to be independent, but also remains true to the foundation set by what preceded it. It’s the proverbial middle of the road. It’s a slow burn, which helps build the tension throughout its duration.
Watching our protagonists’ mental journey into the mind of a killer is why this entry earns its spot at second place. Largely forgotten due to the popularity of the first two, this one deserves some long overdue recognition. Like part two, it utilizes stock footage from the first movie to assist in the storytelling. In this case, it’s used to show the link between Laura and Ricky, and the childhood trauma that haunts our antagonist. Actor Bill Moseley replaces Eric Freeman as Ricky, and his rendition of the character is the polar opposite from the comical overacting seen in part two. Mosley’s lack of speech, slow movement, and inhuman strength are more akin to Michael Myers than what had previously been seen before.
The psychic element of the story allows for some very atmospheric moments. Providing lucid dream sequences that re somewhat reminiscent of Dario Argento’s Phenomena, Hellman brings us a product that foes against typical convention for a slasher film. Still utilizing much of made the earlier films work, but building upon them in a way that sets it apart. One of the more interesting casting choices in this one includes a performance from Robert Culp (I Spy and The Greatest American Hero) as a detective on the trail of Caldwell.
(#1) Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Synopsis: When his parents are murdered by a armed robber dressed as Santa, Billy Chapman and his younger brother Ricky are sent to live in an orphanage. After being subjected to abuse by the nuns in charge, he finally leaves into the real world. When he’s forced to play the role of a department store Santa, he finally snaps and unleashes a killing spree.
If the original taught the world anything, it’s this–controversy sells. For all of the protest and negative backlash this film endured, it still generated an enormous profit. Although not in circulation for very long, the home video boom of the 1980’s ensured that this VHS tape found its way into many collections. Surprisingly, for all the attention that was focused on it, the content doesn’t really match the hype. When you cut right down to it, (no pun intended) the first movie is just one of many slasher films that flooded the market. It’s a product to satisfy the bloodlust of fans, and a chance for scream queen Linea Quigley to show off her assets.
However, that’s not the reason the film climbs to the top of the list at number one. The legacy and reputation alone are legendary. It’s been decades since Billy threw on a Santa suit, took out some sled-stealing bullies, and saught revenge on the nuns who made his childhood a living Hell. Sure, Christmas themed horror films keep coming out, and this one wasn’t the first. However, this is the one anyone thinks of when they hear “holiday” and “Horror” in the same sentence. (Apart from Halloween.) Decades will pass, and this will ALWAYS come up in conversation around this time of year. It seems the only thing the protesting accomplished was launch Silent Night, Deadly Night into a cult phenomenon.
The film itself is 90 minutes of holiday debauchery, and Robert Brian Wilson plays the role of Billy to perfection. A person who’s been pushed to the edge, and takes out a lifetime of unbridled fury at the world that’s created him. Spewing out colorful one-liners such as “Punish!” and “Naughty!” he really is the reason for the season. Some of the highlights in this one include death by Axe, Christmas Lights, and deer antler impalement.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this list. I certainly hope this gives you some insight on a series I happen to hold dear. A very happy holidays to you and yours from all of us at That’s Not Current. Just remember, Santa’s watching, and he knows if you’ve been naughty.